Process of engagement
Any witness, defendant or civil party whose ability to communicate is impaired or who has a communication disability affecting their ability to give evidence or participate in trial is entitled to receive communication assistance. (s80 Evidence Act 2006)
Applications to the Court for a Communications Assistant may be made by any party, including crown, court, defence or on the judge’s own motion. Currently there is no resource for CA engagement in initial police interview processes however, there is precedence for assistance at 2nd police interviews with Crown funding. The process begins with an assessment.
Once we have been engaged to assist, one of our Communication Assistants will undertake a specialised assessment of the speech, language and communication skills of the person. This brief, but detailed assessment, is not a full diagnostic assessment, but designed to better understand how to optimise communication with this person in Justice contexts.
This includes evaluation of abilities and noted assistance that may be required for attention, concentration, listening, understanding as well as assistance in adaptation of questioning to a person’s level for them to give their best evidence. A person’s expressive abilities including speech intelligibility and ability to use language to define and describe is also analysed, in order for the court to understand a persons ability to express their evidence.
Report and Recommendations
Our assessment findings are outlined in a comprehensive report submitted to the court. This Communication Assessment and report for Special Measures, outlines recommended accommodations for how court processes could be adapted to enable complete communication. Strategies are also outlined for all those interacting with the vulnerable person, in order to assist them to adequately participate in court proceedings (or pre-hearing preparation).
The Moretalk CA report is submitted to the court. Counsel then make an application for the CA to be appointed for any pre-trial assistance and assistance at trial. As an Officer for the Court, CA’s hold a neutral role, and are not considered witnesses or support people. The process of professionals engaging with the CA pre-trial can be assisted by an early ground rules hearing with the CA sworn at this point.
Assistance prior to trial can include adaptation of documents to easy read versions, assistance in a defendants understanding of charges and summary of fact documents or written evidence in order to gain instructions. CA’s also work with Counsel to assist them in sequencing and structure of questions to the vulnerable person ensuring they can comprehend questions to process answers. Within court CA’s assist the Court by monitoring communication and intervening where miscommunication threatens.